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After a long month of waiting, Blizzard has finally approved the public release of information which was gathered by attendees of Blizzard’s HQ press conference last month, on the 20th of July. The videos, screenshots and interviews provide the deepest look yet into the much anticipated StarCraft 2 Single Player Campaign – Wings of Liberty.

In this post, we transform the information released and rehashed by the numerous sources into one chewable, concise piece.

StarCraft 2 Wings of Liberty

First up, new tidbits of information about the single player from the newest version of the official StarCraft 2 FAQ:

  • The campaign will focus on the adventures of Jim Raynor and his Raiders as they fight off Arcturus Mengsk’s New Dominion.
  • Kerrigan has resurfaced with her Zerg Brood, laying waste to all life as she sweeps across the galaxy.
  • Completing missions and specific secondary objectives in them will reward the player with new units and currency, which can be used to customize the army between missions.
  • Some of the units in the campaign are unique to the single player, and include classic StarCraft 1 units (Firebat, Wraith) as well as completely new ones (Diamondback Tank).
  • Credits earned can be used to unlock the service of mercenaries, which can then be recruited from Merc Havens during missions. Mercs are normal units with better stats.
  • Credits can also be used to purchase upgrades to units and buildings, allowing players to customize their army to suit their playstyle.
  • More than 25 missions will be available in the campaign, each designed to offer a unique gameplay experience.
  • Many side missions and optional objectives will yield researchable artifacts which have to be collected to unlock further upgrades.
  • In between missions, the “story mode” will let players explore an interactive environment which will have them interacting with NPCs, getting reports about current events, and learning more about the background story.

Blizzard has revealed the story mode locations in which the player will spend his time between missions:

Hyperion’s Bridge:

The bridge

The main area of the ship and the story mode. Tychus Findlay, of Marine suit-up video fame, can be found here. In older builds, Raynor was able to use the large Starmap view, but this has been taken out from the game to simplify matters, the functionality and information integrated into other parts of the gameplay experience more seamlessly. The decision about which mission the proceed to will likely be taken here, where Hyperion’s ship captain, Matt Horner, also resides.

Hyperion’s Armory:

Bunker Shrike Turret, now available for the low low price of $29,999.99!

Where story-aversive players will spend most of their time. This is where Raynor’s hard-earned credits will be spent on upgrading his available units and buildings. In last year’s single player presentation, units were purchased and unlocked here as well, but the Armory will now serve only as an upgrade center, with units being unlocked throughout the missions.

Hyperion’s Lab:

Screenshot074

Stetman, the ship’s scientist, will brief you on the research aspect of the game: finding artifacts in secondary mission objective and investigating them to procure upgrades to equipment.

Hyperion’s Cantina:

Screenshot078

Lore center. Chat up the ship’s crew members and learn about the StarCraft universe. Graven Hill, sitting at the left with his laptop, will be your contact to the available mercenaries.

Cantina television screen:

Screenshot079

More lore and relevant “current events” will be presented through the Cantina’s TV screen. Many of the featured characters will be recognizable from StarCraft’s various book and comic spin-offs.

The campaign will have four difficulty levels: Easy, Moderate, Hard and Insane. According to Dustin, only the “Insane” AI will actually cheat; the rest are pure AI, which will have to gather all their resources and scout the map. Skirmish games will also feature a Beginner AI to help newcomers adjust to the quick pace of StarCraft 2 matches.

During the campaign, the player will be able to choose between several available missions, but will not have to complete all of them to proceed with the campaign. However, these missions and ones that the player has already completed will still be available if the player wishes to return to them.

It’s also worth noting that it will be possible to record replays of single player missions.

***

Two massive Question and Answer sessions have been released, spanning 37 Q&As in total and covering in detail many aspects that were brushed over up until now.

The full Q&A session with Rob Pardo is availible at Starcraft-Source. Here’s our summary of the juicy parts:

  • The Blizzard game development method mandates the creation of the hard-core, multiplayer aspect of the game before approaching its more casual parts. This, they believe, is the key to creating depth, making for games that people can enjoy playing for 500 hours or more. Units and their design come from the requirements of the multi-player game first and are only then used for the campaign.
  • Blizzard will go with digital distribution for StarCraft 2, but will give physical retail stores an exclusivity window. Another Blizzard box for the collection!
  • The StarCraft 2 expansions, featuring the Protoss and Zerg campaigns, will likely be priced as expansions and not full retail games.
  • Battle.net 2.0: “Will it require a subscription?” We are certainly not doing that for Starcraft 2.
  • Single player will be playable offline, but Dustin believes that not having access to achievements, which do require a connection to Battle.net, is game breaking. You’re basically saying, “Please, I would like to break your game now because I want to play offline for some reason.”
  • Dustin and Rob confirm that demo or spawn versions will be available in some way.
  • Match-making will work similar to WarCraft 3, where players are matched based on their approximate skill level. Anti-smurf measures will be taken, though no details have been provided.

And a few of the more interesting answers in full:

1) You build in-depth to the hardcore first, then work backwards into making the game more accessible for more casual players. Is that a design philosophy that you employ across all of your products, or is that a product-specific thing?

n

It’s something we do across all of our games. I’m a big believer in that it’s the right way to develop a multi-player game, one that is capable of lasting for years and years. It’s a little bit counter-intuitive in the gaming industry that I think most other gaming companies tend to tag multi-player on at the end. From an hours of play standpoint, it’s logical if you want a game to last for 500+ hours, which is something we strive for in all of our games. You have to spend a lot of time making sure that your game has that much depth to it. Then you really want to put in that single player element and read that story through, once you have those fundamental foundations of gameplay if you consider single player can last anywhere from 24-50 hours of gameplay. People go through it once, twice, maybe a few times. But multi-player is really what has longevity that can last for years and years.

Five hundred hours of gameplay per title is quite an ambitions mark, and an absurd one to aim for for virtually any other video game company in the world. Blizzard’s games are indeed unique in this regard, containing enough depth to keep people playing for extremely long periods of time.

16) How does match-making work on the new Battle.net?

n

Dustin: It’s similar to how it works in Warcraft 3. After about 5 or 10 games, we have a pretty good idea of your skill level, and we’re matching you at that point based on your skill level. So assuming you’re paying attention, you should win about half of your games. As you begin to improve, we upgrade your skill level once again. I know a lot of players would rather win 60-70% of their games because that would be the most fun, but that means that somebody else is losing 60-70% of their games. We had some – not a whole lot – of issues with players re-rolling characters in Warcraft 3 and coming back through ranks and being rematched. So you’d be enjoying your lower rank of gameplay, and here comes somebody who’s obviously meant to be at level 25. He’s going to be there in a minute, but meanwhile he’s going to pound on you. We’ve got some ideas on how to smooth that kind of thing out and prevent a lot of that kind of behavior.

The matchmaking algorithm, as well as perhaps other means, will be implemented to prevent experienced players from repeatedly plowing through the lower ranks every time they create a new account.

This smurf is unhappy about the changes.

The second Q&A, with Dustin Browder, focuses mainly on single player and campaign gameplay issues, and is also availible in full at StarCraft-Source.

  • Missions will not “evolve” or change if you don’t complete them right away.
  • There are two incentives to doing well in missions rather than just finishing them: Achievements, which are for bragging rights only and have no impact on the game, and secondary objectives, which provide research artifacts that unlock more upgrades.
  • There are only few and very specific points in the campaign where the player’s decision affects the plot and events, but all paths eventually converge to one ending. Blizzard wants to maintain one continuity line that’s congruent with the books and comics of the StarCraft universe as well as the beginning of the next game in the series.
  • A Protoss mini-game will be a part of the campaign, providing the opportunity to play as Protoss for a bit.
  • Heros will mostly show up on more specialized maps so they don’t get lost in the confusion when large armies clash. While heroes cannot use items in the campaign, this option will  be easily available to modders through the game editor.

n

5) Does it matter if you succeed “very well” at a mission or just “OK”?

n

Well, it does in some ways. We do have these achievements that you can show off to your friends which is one measure of success. The second is whether you completed all the secondary objectives as they relate to research. If you complete those objectives, that will add additional firepower to your forces. Again, we’re still working on what those bonuses are going to be, but it will give you additional access.

10) How many endings will the game have?

n

There’s one ending. We really wanted to have a game that still had a continuity to it, and this is the important thing, too – that this is not Fallout, you’re not choosing whether Raynor is good or evil. Raynor is who he is, a conflicted man, a troubled man who’s seen too much war; and it will have a very specific ending, and the next game will have a very specific beginning.

A single ending, to segue into the single beginnings of the upcoming expansions. StarCraft is a universe with its key characters and its own lore, and players can not change the fate of neither villains nor heroes, at least as long as StarCraft is an RTS game.

17) If you use a hero, does it have the ability to get and use items?

n

We have the ability to put in items for mod makers, but it’s not something we typically use in the Starcraft environment. They’re not around often enough for you to collect a lot of items; it just didn’t make sense to include that in the gameplay. But we are working on the interface and having the UI available for people who want to make mods because we know that there’s a huge tradition of mods from Warcraft 3 that are dependent on that interface. We’ve got that interface in and we’ll be polishing it up as we get closer to ship so that we have that available for the mod makers.

StarCraft 2’s editor, Scumedit, supports items, despite the fact that this feature will not be incorporated into the the campaign. The support for unit items was made available to capitalize on the massively popular hero-based WarCraft custom scenarios, such as DoTA.

20) How do the units change from single player to multi-player?

n

The actual units are the same. A marine is a marine; a medic is a medic. We do, however, have units in the single player that are not in the multi-player, such as medics, cobras, wraiths, and cannons on top of your bunkers.

Over at ShackNews, an Interview with Chris Sigaty, lead producer, yields this new piece of interesting information:

Chris Sigaty: Challenges are something we’re trying. We always hear people say, “You look at singleplayer as the training ground for multiplayer, right?” And we don’t really.

And in fact here we’re kind of training you all wrong, because you can have any unit depending on what missions you went through, and there are units that aren’t in multiplayer at all, like Firebats, Medics, all sorts of stuff. We kind of created challenges out of this, and our concept behind challenges is to train you at some of the things that are important to a good competitive player, to be at least aware of. They’re little minigames that teach you about things like economy, how to maximize getting resources, unit countering, control grouping, micro, spell usage, all sorts of things like that. Those two things are available when you’re offline.

n

Shack: It almost sounds like a tutorial-plus.

n

Chris Sigaty: Yeah, it’s like a master version of a tutorial. And you can best yourself too. There’s a minimum bar we want you to hit, and you can try to best yourself by playing them again and again. It’s pretty cool stuff–I’m really excited about it, because I think that’s one of the things we haven’t done as well in the past, is really helped out people who aren’t really experience in multiplayer. And when they jump on there for the first time, nobody’s telling them these things, they jump into a game and get their assed handed out, and they just walk out of the experience. We want people to have a place they can go to learn, and eventually get to the point–some of the better players do research, they get replays, they see what the best players do.

A great new idea from Blizzard. Such challenges have appeared in many other genres before, but this is a first for RTS games, and it’s certainly a welcome addition. Coupled with replay capability for single player, this feature will certainly become an integral and fun part of StarCraft 2.

Another Q&A session with Chris Metzen, vice president of creative development, has been published over at SC Legacy. The interviewer challenges Chris with lore questions from the StarCraft 2 books to the disabled mission on the original StarCraft CD. Where Chris fumbles a bit is the question about the possibility of infesting the Protoss:

Q: Can Protoss get infested?

n

A: I’m trying to think if there are specific fictional answers to that, I could have sworn we had a story or two like that in the manga recently. But I’m spacing out… I feel like I wanna take the 5th on that too. It’s a weird one. Off the top of your head you’d think “sure!”

This conforms to Blizzard’s original stance regarding the concept, but directly contradicts a statement from last month:

Based on the lore, the Protoss do not become infested. The combination of the two result in a hybrid race.

Can the Protoss become infested? It is a mystery.

***

The new single player HD video provides short glimpses into the first few missions of the campaign and showcases the various mission types available. Among them are a quest to find Zerg Crysalis DNA, a turtling mission against the Zerg horde, an obligatory civilian escort objective, and a mission to retrieve Protoss relics.

Lastly, a somewhat single-player-unrelated but quite interesting, strictly gameplay/development interview with Chris Sigaty and Dustin Browder delivers a few highlights:

  • Terran buildings can be repaired in mid-air.
  • Emphasis is put on tech paths that do not over-simplify unit countering decisions, i.e. no “one tech path fits all”.
  • Immortal Hardened Shields are now available by default.

n

That’s it for the single player information explosion. With BlizzCon coming up in just a couple of days, it’s safe to assume we’ll get just as much new information about the multiplayer part of the game, if not more…

The entire collection of screenshots which were released during the event is available for download here.

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